Asian-American adolescents are often viewed as a model minority because overall they engage in fewer problematic behaviors compared to other groups (1 & 5). Some studies, however, have revealed higher levels of emotional distress among Asian-American youth compared to other adolescent ethnic groups (5). Regarding bullying experiences, it has been found that within an ethnically diverse adolescent sample, Asian-Americans were the most frequently bullied ethnic group (6). 

We investigated the bullying experiences of 295 Korean-American high school students who reside in New York and New Jersey areas. Bullying experiences were assessed by the Bully Survey (9) and depression by the Center for Epidemiological Studies - Depression Scale (CES-D) (8). 

Incidence of Bullying

Bullying Experiences Number of Participants Who Reported Experiences with Bullying Percentage of Participants
Being Bullied (Victim) 86 29.2%
Observing Others Being Bullied (Bystander) 220 74.6%
Bullying Others (Bully) 93 31.5%
Being Bullied and Bullying others (Bully-Victim) 47 15.9%

Among the participants, 86 (29.2%) reported being bullied, 220 (74.6%) observing others being bullied, 93 (31.5%) bullying others and 47 (15.9%) both being bullied and bullying others. 

Relationship Between Bullying Experiences and Depression

Those who reported being bullied as well as those who reported both being bullied and bullying others experienced a higher level of depression than those who were not bullied. This is consistent with the literature, which maintains that being bullied has a profound impact on the mental health outcomes of children and adolescents. Bystanders and bullies did not show clinically significant levels of depression. Being victimized appears the most important indicator of mental health outcomes associated with bullying experiences. Some of those who bullied others might have done so in self defense, leading others to perceive them as being able to defend themselves, preventing others from bullying them and keeping them from being chronically victimized. The victims appear more likely to experience hopelessness, which may lead to developing mental health issues. 

When the CES-D scores were compared to those in other studies using the same scale with Korean-American adolescents, the overall level of depression from this study is similar to those reported for Korean Americans by Oh, Koeske and Sales (7) and Kuo (4). While the overall level of depression among Korean-Americans is elevated compared to other ethnic groups (2 & 3), the level of the victims and bully-victims in our study was significantly higher than those of Korean-American adolescents in general, suggesting that they are a high-risk group within this ethnic group, which has already been shown to be vulnerable to mental distress and depression. 

Reasons of Bullying


Frequent Reasons I am Bullied Percentage
I’m different 29.1%
The country I’m from 29.1%
I am fat 24.4%
My skin color 23.3%
My face looks funny 22.1%
I get good grades 20.9%

The most frequent reasons given by the victim group for being bullied were their country of origin (29.1%) and their being different (29.1%), followed by being fat (24.4%), their skin color (23.3%), their face looking funny (22.1%), getting good grades (20.9%), friends being weird (18.6%), being a wimp (15.1%), being short (11.6%), getting angry a lot (10.5%) and looking too young (10.5%). 


The most frequent reason given by the bystander group was the victim being a wimp (50.5%), followed by being fat (47.4%), their face looking funny (46.4%), their being different (45.9%), their friends being weird (41.8%), the way they talk (41.8%), their inability to get along with others (38.2%), their clothes (36.8%), their skin color (26.4%), being too short (26.4%), their crying a lot (22.7%) , being gay (22.7%), their being in special education (22.7%), their country of origin (21.8%), their being disabled (19.5%), their getting bad grades (18.6%), their getting good grades (18.2%), their getting angry a lot (17.7%), their being skinny (14.5%) and their being poor (11.8%). 

Frequent Reasons Why Person Is Bullied Percentage
They are a wimp 50.5%
They are fat 47.4%
Their face looks funny 46.4%
They are different 45.9%
The way they talk 41.8%,
Their friends are weird 41.8%


The most frequent reason given by the bully group was the victim being a wimp (31.2%), followed by being fat (25.8%), their face looking funny (23.7%), friends being weird (23.7%), their being different (19.4%), their clothes (17.2%), their being angry a lot (14%), crying a lot 14%), being skinny (14%), their being too short (11.8%), and their country of origin (10.8%).   

Frequent Reasons Why I Bully Percentage
They are a wimp 31.2%
They are fat 25.8%
Their face looks funny 23.7%
Their friends are weird 23.7%
They are different 19.4%
Their clothes 17.2%


Victims endorsed relatively highly in the areas that relate to their ethnicity, such as country of origin, being different, and skin color. Other reasons that may or may not be related to their ethnicity or discrimination are endorsed fairly highly too, such as being fat, looking funny, getting good grades, friends being weird, or being a wimp. When we examine the patterns of reasons the observers and bullies endorsed for bullying experiences, they are not necessarily related to ethnicity or ethnic stereotyping, suggesting that the target reasons for being bullied could be broader than the context of discrimination. The results suggest that the experiences of bullying among Korean/Asian-American adolescents and their related mental health issues need to be addressed in a comprehensive context of their culture, school and discrimination experiences.


1. Au, J.G. & Donaldson, S.I. (2000). Social influences as explanations for substance use differences among Asian-American and European-American adolescents. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 32, 15-23. 

2. Hovey, J.D., Kim, S.E. & Seligman, L.D. (2006). The influences of cultural values, ethnic identity, and language use on the mental health of Korean American college students. The Journal of Psychology, 140 (5). 499-511.

3. Kim, E. & Cain, K. (2008). Korean American adolescent depression and parenting. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 21 (2), 105-115.

4. Kuo,W. H. (1984). Prevalence of depression among Asian-Americans. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 172, 449–457.

5. Lorenzo, M., Frost, A. & Reinherz, H. (2000). Social and emotional functioning of older Asian American adolescents. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 17(4), 289-304.

6. Mouttapa, M., Valente, T., Gallaher, P., Rohrbach, L.A. & Unger, J.B. (2004). Social network predictors of bullying and victimization. Adolescence, 39 (154), 315-334.

7. Oh, Y., Koeske, G. F., & Sales E. (2002). Acculturation, stress, and depressive symptoms among Korean immigrants in the United States. The Journal of Social Psychology, 142 (4), 511-526.  

8. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D Scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385-401. 

9. Swearer, S. M. & (2005). The Bully Survey. Unpublished manuscript. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.